At a recent event, we brought together Peter Bakker, President of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and Lord Deben, Chairman of the UK Committee on Climate Change, to lay out a clear and inspiring vision for the action required by business to deliver a coherent response to climate change.

To mark The CarbonNeutral Company’s 10 years managing the secretariat of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group (APPCCG), the event was a fitting celebration of the important role the group has played as a fundamental bridge between the public and private sector.

Caroline Lucas MP chaired the event and was also joined by Jonathan Shopley, Managing Director of Natural Capital Partners (formerly The CarbonNeutral Company) and Barnaby Wharton from the Confederation of British Industry.  There were three key themes that ran through the debate – the need for transformation, collaboration and courage.

"It requires a massive transformation of everything - everything has to change"

 

Peter Bakker began the discussion with an uncompromising statement calling on business leaders and policy makers to move on from discussion and forward into action.  He called for a holistic and collaborative approach – from energy access, to building resilient infrastructure, to transforming our industry and food systems – with the recently agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) as a framework for every country to think of itself as “developing”. Supporting this move to action, he referenced the WBCSD’s nine “big business solutions areas”: carbon capture and storage (CCS), renewable energy, advanced biofuels, low carbon freight, cement, chemicals, forests as carbon sinks, climate-smart agriculture, and energy efficient buildings. Intended to empower business to focus on solutions related to their own industries (and core business skills) through collaboration, industry working groups are being asked to identify the potential emission reductions they can deliver, and the practical barriers they expect to face when scaling up technology deployment before building an action plan for implementation.   

Lord Deben called on business and government to approach this transformational period with optimism and to be courageous in managing “the biggest philosophical change since the renaissance.” “Humanity has a real opportunity to be really human,” he said.

Despite leading action by many businesses, such as Microsoft, Marks and Spencer and Sky, who have taken the opportunity to act ahead of and beyond policy and regulation, many have struggled to understand the opportunities for growth that come from low carbon investment.  But as climate risks become reality, and questions are raised over license to operate, the cost of action has shown itself to be less than the cost of inaction, bringing the wider business community to the table. Most importantly, as emphasised by Peter Bakker: “The contradiction that is often portrayed between growing the economy and fighting climate change doesn’t exist.” There is a huge opportunity for transformation that business should maximise by taking courageous action.

Inclusion of these “Major change agents” within the forthcoming Paris Climate Conference marks the changing tide of public and private sector interaction; a signal that government has begun to recognise the value of collaboration, and the power of business to drive the solution. “It’s all about ends and means,” stressed Lord Deben. Policy must provide the end goal, and business must set about the means to get there. But to provide the means, Peter Bakker urged: “We must stop talking about climate change, stop writing reports, and start talking about how to scale solutions.” Importantly, to scale solutions we must be ambitious and work collaboratively. No one business can tackle the challenges we face alone, but through partnerships we can learn, share and scale ideas and technologies to collectively build a better world.

So what should business be doing? For Peter Bakker, there are five core activities, the first being to set science based targets. Corporates have tended to set targets in-line with what they deem feasible from their efficiency initiatives, but to achieve net zero status by the second half of the century, we must be courageous, setting ambitious targets consistent with the level of decarbonisation required to limit global warming to less than 2°C. A key part of achieving these science-based targets will be to switch to 100% renewable energy - the second activity noted by Peter Bakker. RE100, a programme convened by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP is working to engage influential companies committed to using 100% renewable power – from building, owning and operating own renewable energy assets, to long-term power purchase agreements, through to the purchase and retirement of Renewable Energy Certificates and Guarantees of Origin. Underpinning these actions is the need for transparency and accountability, embedding integrated reporting into corporate structures and ensuring there is governance on environmental accountability. Finally, he calls on business to mobilise environmental solutions that relate to their core business skills, and then collaborate to scale-up these solutions because it makes business sense to do so, and is needed to meet science-based targets.

While business makes progress on the above, the market must also transform. As a mechanism to drive change, it must be made more efficient and given the long-term view through the establishment of a global carbon price, otherwise: “We will continue to fish until there are no fish left in the sea,” a poignant analogy made by Lord Deben. Though we are a few years away from an agreed global price, the hope is that Paris will set the foundation for that in the future.

In the meantime, business has once more shown resolution in taking the lead, with the likes of Microsoft setting an internal carbon fee to underpin their net zero programme. By collaborating with peers toshare experience and best practice, and engaging with policy makers, business can help steer progress toward this global price.

Inevitably, within this transformation to a zero carbon economy there will be winners and losers, but to make progress we must accept this inevitable outcome, take courage and raise ambition further.